Matriarchal Islam

Matriarchal Islam is a research project enabled through a generous grant from the Social Science Research Council (New York, USA).

The project aims to document all available texts, images, audio and visual materials on the matriarchal Muslim communities of the Indian Ocean littoral, from East Africa to South/East Asia.

By looking particularly at their formulations and conceptualisation of Islamic law in relation to the matriarchal customs and practices, the project will inquire how their interconnections help us understand many unknown and crucial facets of Islamic law which otherwise has been understood as inflexible, cruel, and patriarchal, since so far it has been analysed exclusively through an Arab lens. How did these geographically “peripheral Muslims” construct their own versions of Islam and its law, often in conflict and by compromise with the dominant perceptions and narratives, as seen in the matriarchal Islamic system in the Indian Ocean? While the system connected Muslim maritime traders and sailors by hosting them through marriages, it also raised serious questions at the jurisprudential practices evolved in the Middle East through its peculiar practices of property ownership, kinship relations and marital norms. Both the system and the discourse around it show strong inter-Asian and Afro-Asian components, which also have been ignored in the predominant anthropological literature.

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